With ratings at an all-time high, record attendance numbers and NIL deals galore, women's college basketball is having a moment. This isn't an anomaly. The game has been growing consistently in quality and coverage throughout the decades, and now it’s starting to reach its potential.
It's not just the attention that's rising—the new kids can play! This season has introduced a plethora of talented freshman who are making an impact on their programs on day one—something unheard of, minus a few rare exceptions, before.
With so many year-one college players making noise, we'll be taking a look at freshmen throughout the rest of the season, highlighting some of the players you should be keeping an eye on—not just this season but also in the years to come.
We begin not with one of the most known names, but with a big from the Bronx balling in Maryland: Hawa Doumbouya.
Doumbouya is far from being a leader or star at Maryland, but she has all the tools to be great. At 6-foot-7, she has the frame and build to be a force on the inside for the Terps. There isn't much tape of her at the collegiate level, as she has played in just seven games. But when she has played, it's been encouraging.
She played eight minutes in the season opener against the Towson Tigers and contributed eight points on 3-for-3 shooting, along with five rebounds and three assists. Doumbouya also played eight minutes versus the Niagara Purple Eagles and posted six points, two boards, and two blocks in that win.
Plenty of players have good size, but Doumbouya knows how to use it. She can shift around in the paint and find the angles to the rim. She also finishes strong near the basket. Even as a freshman playing limited minutes, she attracts massive attention and becomes a blackhole for defenders. Everyone gravitates towards her and this allows her to either attack the onslaught or dish it out to open shooters or cutters. She has tremendous vision and a soft touch with the ball, recalling the young, Orlando Magic-version of Shaquille O'Neal with her ability to pass.
Against Towson, she received the ball in the paint and immediately was double teamed, but found teammate Jakia Brown-Turner cutting to the basket, earning her an easy layup. You can teach a player where the ball should go and give them skills needed to pass out of double teams, but this kind of feel for the game can't be taught. You're born with it. It's one of the intangibles that directly impacts a player's potential that is hard to quantify—and Doumbouya's got it.
What she doesn't have is coast-to-coast speed. It's not awful, but there is work to be done on keeping up with the game's speed at the Division I level. Doumbouya also needs more time in the film room. If the first option is available, she's fine. But when she has to resort to the second and third options, she goes into fight-or-flight mode, either going to the basket trying to score or looking for a guard to bail her out and reset things. This is not alarming or a cause for concern; it's part of being a young player. But, there are areas that need improvement as she continues as a freshman and beyond.
Doumbouya is a good addition to a Maryland team vying to be a top contender in the NCAA sooner rather than later. She has all the tools to continue making the most of her opportunities as a freshman and, ideally, make a sophomore jump next season. For now, she's on the right path. And with the importance of bigs in the NCAA and WNBA, I expect you will hear the name Doumbouya more and more as her career progresses.